Friday, October 27, 2023





I have experienced enough in the way of people's strange behaviors

to not be surprised by sudden breakouts of kindness, brutality, ten-

derness, betrayal, inconsistency, vanity, rigidity, schadenfreude and

its opposite. What does surprise me is current events. When 9/11

happened I was taken aback by such a freakish thing. (It was, to me,

no accident that 9/11 occurred on the other side of the millennium,

in 2001: No good, I thought, can come of the twenty-first century.

Not that the twentieth did not have its share of nasty surprises.) I con-

tinue to marvel at Republicans' seeming willingness to shut down

the federal government and allow the United States to default rather

than negotiate with the president. I don't understand my country

anymore: how, after a century of federal programs such as the New

Deal, social security, bank regulation, public housing, and food

stamps, a large swath of the population can still take umbrage at the

government's minimal efforts to protect the weak and the poor, or

indeed to have a presence in any aspect of life beyond the mainte-

nance of military force. Nothing prior has prepared me for this

frightening swerve. I grew up in the postwar atmosphere of a mod-

estly progressive welfare state, where problems such as racial segre-

gation and poverty were expected to be addressed as the governmental

level, and I assumed naively that we were marching at best or creep-

ing at worst toward a more just society. What I took for an inevitable

historical progression turned out to be an anomalous blip. I might

better have looked in Nietzche's theory of eternal recurrence. Today

I am less experienced, less able to adapt to this harshly selfish envi-

ronment than the average twenty-year-old, who has grown up with-

out my New Deal-Great Society set of expectations.


Phillip Lopate

A Year and A Day

NYRB 2023



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